As the Environmental Education Manger for the waste and recycling department in local government, I began the school recycling education program for children in 3rd and 4th grades. I would lead classroom arts and crafts projects that taught the children a hands-on lesson about recycling and guide teachers in introducing environmental education into the classroom. Children learn best when they can see tangible results about the lesson you’re trying to teach them. Kids love getting their hands dirty!
Today I’ll tell you about two of my favorite projects: Making Recycled Paper and How to Create a Compost Bin.
Making new paper from old junk mail, newspaper and recycling homework assignments is a fun project for small classrooms and is best done with 2 or 3 adult assistants. The week before your paper-making class ask students to collect old sheets of paper from art projects, old homework assignments and even junk mail from home.
Children should tear up their paper into small scraps about 1″ square. Sort paper into color families so they can experiment with how different types of paper mix with others to create custom colored hues. Remember that recycling white paper with black writing will actually create grey paper. Now soak the paper overnight to allow the fibers to become softened and ready for pulp making the following day. Next place the paper into a standard kitchen blender with water and let it whirl to create paper pulp. Pour this pulp through framed window screen to drain the water and using recycled newspaper as sponges to press as much water out as possible. Once the paper pulp has been drained of as much water as possible, turn the new sheet of paper out onto
Flip your screen over onto a large piece of felt on a cookie sheet so the excess water has a place to drain. You can add dried flowers, herbs or plants to your paper at this time and gently press them into the wet paper. Add an addition piece of felt or newspaper or paper towel to the top of the wet paper to help with the drying process. Let your newly recycled paper dry overnight.
Use this hands-on lesson to teach the children about the history of paper and how it was made before modern machinery. Teachers can also teach their students about the different materials used in papermaking such as plants, recycled fabric (U.S. currency) and recycled paper.
Worms Eat My Garbage
The boys in the class will enjoy this lesson because they will get to play with worms. But the girls will also like the lesson because using compost in a flower garden will make their blooms bigger and more beautiful. The lesson on compost is one that can stretch throughout the entire school year so children can see the entire cycle of how compost is created.
In September set up a compost bin either inside the classroom (there are special bins designed for inside use) or outside on the school property somewhere. Begin the compost bin with a bit of prepared compost from the previous year’s class or a supply from your garden center. Add strips of newspaper soaked in water and a small supply of compostable food such as salad fixings, orange peels or apple cores. Only use organic food in your compost bin. Do not use animal products like meat or dairy because they will cause an order. Throw in some plant materials too like yard clippings and leaves that have fallen off trees. Add some water to make the whole compost pile moist. Then add the worms. Red Wigglers are the best type of worm to use and they live happily eating the garbage they are fed.
Each week assign 2 or 3 students to be the leaders on the Compost Team so everyone has a chance to work on the project. Every couple days, depending on the weather, have students had a bit of water to the compost bin to make sure the pile is kept moist but not soaking wet. Once a week the pile should be “turned” or stirred up using a pitch fork or shovel. Bring the compost from the bottom of the pile up to the top of the pile and make sure there is good air circulation around the compost. Add more newspaper as it is needed. Always make sure any food is covered with dirt so it doesn’t create an order or attract neighborhood animals.
By April your class will have created a pile of beautifully rich soil that is ready to be used for planting. Your classroom can plant a garden at the school and watch the flowers and vegetables thrive in the nutrient rich compost they created throughout the year. Or students can plant individual pots of seeds that they can take home to enjoy all summer long.
Use this hands-on project to teach children about the biology of earth worms and other insects that thrive in a compost bin. Learning about compost is also an excellent opportunity to teach children about the nutrients that plant life needs to grown in our environment. Teachers can also plan a field trip to the local compost yard through their local government office or waste hauler company.
Children Love to Recycle
Children are the best advocates for the environment and our local recycling program. When a child becomes passionate about an issue, he will bring his enthusiasm back home to his parents, grandparents and siblings. Many times the only reason adults participate in a recycling program is because the passion their children have for the environment and the exciting projects they’ve learned about at school spills over into the home.